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Melky Cabrera Is Who We Thought He Was

When Melky Cabrera was signed it was hard to know exactly what to expect given his PED use, but in 2014 he is proving to come as advertised.

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

591 days ago the Toronto Blue Jays signed Melky Cabrera to a two-year $16 million dollar contract, and it was difficult to know how to react.

Cabrera had just hit .346/.390/.516 for the Giants in a difficult park and put up a WAR number of 4.4 in only 113 games and was just 28, making him seem an absolute bargain at that price, especially with such a reasonable term.

On the flip side, he had just been busted for using performance-enhancing drugs the previous year, which was kind of a bummer.

The deal was, and is, the largest free agent contract in the Alex Anthopoulos era and Cabrera was undoubtedly a risk. Regardless of whether one opposed signing a PED user for moral reasons or was absolutely apathetic to the issue, Cabrera's future production--presumably without PED's--was a question mark.

At this point in time the reality is we have very little idea exactly how much benefit players get from using performance-enhancing drugs. That statement is not meant to deny that there aren't gains that come with PED use, we just can't be sure of the exactly the extent of those gains. Very smart people are trying to quantify every nook and cranny of baseball, but this is a particularly complex nook that they are far from nailing down.

Mixed metaphor aside, it is fair to say that when Melky Cabrera arrived on the Jays it was very difficult to predict what exactly he was going to do. There was a rather large faction of ignoramuses that predicted that Cabrera would crash and burn, assuming that the drugs he had taken accounted for the entirety of his success.

Unfortunately, in the immediate term those folks were validated by the numbers the Toronto's new left fielder put up.

Cabrera was an unmitigated disaster in 2013, hitting .279/.322/.360 while playing the outfield in a manner that was painful to watch. To put it in musical terms--which it could be argued is entirely unnecessary--Melky's outfield defense looked the way someone playing a violin for the first time sounds. If that simile doesn't work for you, pick up a violin, give it a go, and see what happens.

When 2013 was all said and done his WAR total for the season was -0.9. Ironically, the folks who predicted that Cabrera was absolutely nothing without his PED's are probably the ones who thought he was doing OK last year based on his .279 average alone, but I digress.

It seemed that the Jays had acquired a lemon in Cabrera and it also seemed as though there was a pretty obvious reason why. And there was. The thing is that the reason for Melky's massive dip in performance was not that he was no longer juicing, but rather the fact he had a tumour in his spine.

Fun fact: Team doctors hypothesized that the tumour actually grew in size during the year.

As far as excuses for poor performance as a professional athlete go, that's a pretty good one.

When 2014 rolled around once again it was difficult to know what the Jays were going to get from Cabrera. Quantifying how much a man's ability to play professional baseball is diminished by a spinal tumour is even more difficult than determining how much it could be enhanced by steroids.

The idea of a guy who might hit something like .346/.390/.516 like Cabrera had done only a couple years before was long gone in the eyes of most fans. That idea should never have existed. Melky's 2012 line was inflated by a .379 BABIP number and was always going to almost impossible to repeat.

A much more realistic idea of what Cabrera might produce was his 2011 output. It is easy to forget that Cabrera broke out first with the Royals before he had his insane run with the Giants. For the more reasonable fan, I think that was the target for Melky all along, and in his second year with the Jays he's nailing it. The table below shows Cabrera's numbers in 2011 compared to this season.

























Cabrera has been a tiny bit better in a couple areas in 2014, but by and large you can't ask for a pair of lines more identical than those.

It's taken us a little bit of time and a scary tumour to get to this point, but right now Melky Cabrera is who we thought he was.